You Don't Need Willpower to Quit Alcohol
You need to tap into something much deeper.
I did not get sober because I was finally ready to let go of alcohol. I got sober on January 1st this year because I was finally aware that if I kept drinking I would lose what was left of the grasp I had on myself.
Putting down the drink was not my first choice. Picking up my own dignity was. It had at last dawned on me that alcohol was costing me a lot more than money and regular hangovers. The cost of poisoning myself was a decent, healthy, authentic life.
There is an interesting thing people will sometimes say to me when I tell them I am almost one year sober (347 days but who’s counting, oh yes: me). They will say with kind, sincere reverence that I must have incredible willpower. And while I truly appreciate their acknowledgment of my sobriety, and I totally get where they are coming from, the thing is it’s not about willpower. And I believe it was Holly Whitaker (whose incredibly brilliant, groundbreaking, and generous work on addiction recovery in all honesty saved my life from alcohol addiction) I first heard explain this in the best way when she said sobriety is not about willpower, it’s about making the choice for a bigger life that alcohol could ever allow you to have. And once you make the choice for that gorgeous, textured, wildly nuanced life, you honor it. Even when it’s hard. Even when your ‘willpower’ has long run out.
Annie Grace essentially says the same thing in her work, which emphasizes that in order to break your addiction to alcohol you have to learn to think differently about the addiction. You have to train your whole mind - conscious and subconscious - to accept the truth that you do not want alcohol to be part of the equation any longer. That all of the positive things you believe alcohol is doing for you are the things alcohol is actually undoing for you instead. The ‘benefits’ that are marketed to us that alcohol helps you gain confidence, relax, lower stress, enhance joy, be sexy, be clever, be funny, lessen anxiety, and sleep are all bullshit. The science proves it.
The only trouble with that, of course, is that it’s logical. And anyone who has ever struggled with addiction to anything can tell you that addiction is not logical. There’s sciencey reasons for that, too, but in a nutshell that’s why you cannot reason with a person who is trapped inside of active addiction. The math doesn’t compute for them. They can’t solve for health and wellness or life and safety because the addiction overrides their internal systems and thunders through their whole being with its lies.
That’s the place where any little sliver of self-trust can save them like it did me. Somehow a little ray, a little inkling shone through the chaos in my mind and I made the choice to cling to that bit of hope that I was worth more. That I could choose a bigger, better, more dignified life of self-worth, self-respect, and integrity. All of that sounded so much more beautiful to me than blackouts, panic, fear, and self-annihilation.
That’s the choice I’m talking about. It isn’t whether to drink or not drink it’s whether to have your whole life back with all of its richness, depth, and possibility, or to waste it trying to bargain with something that’s only aim is to kill you. You can fuck around with the thing you are addicted to and play a bunch of games with yourself or you can acknowledge the fact that when it comes to this thing, you have lost control of yourself. It is deciding for you and against you all at once.
This is not about having booze or not in your refrigerator. It’s about you or your addiction running your life. What is your choice going to be? What you are running from is not giving up the alcohol. What you are running from is having to make that choice. Something inside of you, the part of you that solves tough problems for your own health, wellness, and joy, wants you to choose your own dignity. But you are so busy trying to not have to decide to save yourself that you pretend you are fine. You tell yourself you are fine. That you aren’t as bad as so and so. That you can stop whenever you want it’s just not a good time right now. I told myself that for over a decade as I drank without stopping for a single day. It was not logic it was addiction.
The danger of believing you need willpower to quit drinking is that willpower runs out. You get tired or bored or triggered and your resistance wears thinner and thinner until you just say fuck it, I’ll just have one- this is too hard.
But there is something in you that runs far deeper, stronger, and more brilliant than willpower and that’s your intuition. That eternally wise, creative part of you that is your spirit, hoping you will claim authority over your own life. The voice inside who knows how very good things could get if you just stop poisoning yourself. And that small voice is going to keep bugging you until you decide to choose yourself.
Only one decision can bring you the peace you seek. Until then, it’s all just a bunch of nauseating noise.
66 days and I get excited for every one of your sober musings when I see them pop up on substack. Thank you!